An hour after finishing the final season of Dead to Me, I called a friend who is struggling with an illness. If you’ve already watched the ten 30-minute episodes, you know what prompted my reaction. If not, I’ll explain, while trying to keep spoilers to a minimum.
First a recap: In season one, Judy (Linda Cardellini) is driving her boyfriend Steve’s (James Marsden) Mustang when she strikes and kills, Ted, Jen’s (Christina Applegate) husband. Although Judy wants to call the police, Steve convinces her to leave the scene. Consumed with guilt, Judy joins a grief group where she befriends Jen. The two become inseparable.
Steve is not a nice guy. He abuses Judy while having an affair with another woman. While he looks like a legitimate businessman, he’s actually laundering money for the Greek mob. When Jen finds out, looking to protect Judy, she turns Steve into the police. Furious, he comes to Jen’s home. During the confrontation, Jen hits him over the head and he falls into the pool. While she could have saved him, she watches him drown. She and Judy then must find a way to bury Steve’s body.
James Marsden as Ben Wood
In season two, Judy and Jen receive a shock when Steve’s twin, Ben (also played by Marsden), shows up at their home. The two men did not have a good relationship, their wealthy mother always favoring the seemingly more successful brother. Once again, Judy and Jen deal with their grief and guilt by growing close to the person they have harmed. When Steve’s remains are discovered, Ben, an alcoholic, falls off the wagon and is involved in a hit-and-run. The kicker? Judy and Jen are in the other car.
Linda Cardellini as Judy
That’s where we begin season three, with Judy and Jen in the hospital and Ben trying to avoid the cops. During medical tests, shadows turn up on Judy’s x-rays. She’s diagnosed with cervical cancer that has spread to her liver. While she tries to hide from Jen that she has cancer, she soon realizes she won’t be able to go through the treatments alone. Jen devastated by the news, quickly goes into overdrive, ready to do whatever she can to save her friend.
Christina Applegate as Jen
Dead to Me is known for dark humor; season three is no exception. But this time, the feelings of guilt and grief rise to the surface, making so many of the scenes not only emotional, but real tear-jerkers. The reason: we know that before filming began for these episodes, Applegate was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In interviews, she and Cardellini, along with the series creator Liz Feldman, talked about what went on behind the scenes. While Applegate was determined to continue, there were days when her illness kept her sidelined. The cast and crew were supportive and the admiration voiced for Applegate’s courage and strength is evident in the comments Feldman and Cardellini made during interviews.
The scenes between Applegate and Cardellini hit hard. Yes, the story is sad, one woman is battling cancer and may die while her friend does everything she can to help. But the emotions on display seem more raw, less acting and more dealing with reality. Applegate’s illness may have been put aside while the two actors were filming these scenes, but could not be dismissed.
Dead to Me is a tribute to friendship between women. Like another Netflix hit, Grace and Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, the theme is women helping women. And don’t we all know that our friendships with women matter? Not only are they important in the best of times, but they become paramount during the worst of times.
This time around, I’m fortunate to be on the giving end, prompting the call to my friend. (I’ve been on the receiving end too many times to count.) I won’t be able to save her, just like Jen wasn’t able to save Judy. But sometimes just being there is what matters.
So watch season three of Dead to Me. Keep the tissues handy and be prepared to call a friend.
The third season of Dead to Me is now steaming on Netflix.
Top photo: Linda Cardellini as Judy and Christina Applegate as Jen. Credit Courtesy of NETFLIX / © 2022 Netflix, Inc.
All photos Courtesy of NETFLIX / © 2022 Netflix, Inc.